09.15.16

Leahy Calls For Senate Action On Bipartisan Reforms To Protect Older Americans From Workplace Discrimination

WASHINGTON – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is urging the top leaders of the Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee to take up his bipartisan bill to protect older Americans from workplace discrimination.  

Leahy, in a bipartisan letter with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), noted that the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA) would restore critical workplace protections for older Americans that were stripped away following the 2009 Supreme Court’s decision in Gross v. FBL Financial.  That decision made it far more difficult for older workers to fight age discrimination. 

“We are concerned that the Gross decision has allowed employers to discriminate on the basis of age with impunity as long as it is paired with other reasons,” the senators wrote.  

They added:  “The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act would make clear that when an older worker shows that age was a motivating factor in employment discrimination, the burden is on the employer to prove it was not.  This bill further extends the same standard of proof to other workplace discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  This measure is crucial for all Americans to be fully protected under the law.

We urge you to swiftly take action and report this important legislation to reaffirm Congress’ commitment to equal rights in the workplace.”

Full text of the letter, below: 

September 15, 2016

The Honorable Lamar Alexander
Chairman, Senate Committee on 
Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee
455 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Alexander:

We write to express our strong support for S.2180, the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, and ask that you mark up the bill quickly. This bill will restore vital civil rights protections for older workers that were restricted following the Supreme Court’s decision in Gross v. FBL Financial, Inc. The Gross decision made it far more difficult for older workers to fight age discrimination. This bipartisan bill restores the intent of Congress to protect all workers from discrimination.

Our Nation was founded on the principles of equal rights and opportunity for all Americans. In pursuit of these principles, Congress has enacted a wide array of civil rights laws to eliminate discrimination in society, including the workplace. Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 to extend protections against workplace discrimination to older workers. We strengthened those protections in the Civil Rights Act of 1991. 

We are concerned that the Gross decision has allowed employers to discriminate on the basis of age with impunity as long as it is paired with other reasons. In fact, age discrimination complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission jumped nearly 30 percent between 2007 and 2008[1]. The American Association of Retired Persons found that more than one third of registered voters age 50 and over experienced or knew someone who had experienced age discrimination.[2]

The Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act would make clear that when an older worker shows that age was a motivating factor in employment discrimination, the burden is on the employer to prove it was not. This bill further extends the same standard of proof to other workplace discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This measure is crucial for all Americans to be fully protected under the law. 

We urge you to swiftly take action and report this important legislation to reaffirm Congress’ commitment to equal rights in the workplace.   

Sincerely,

PATRICK LEAHY                                                                        CHARLES GRASSLEY

Ranking Member                                                                            Chairman

cc:

The Honorable Patty Murray
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on
Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
154 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510 

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